Arianna Huffington knows a thing or two about what she thought was success—she is the co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of Huffington Post, which in 2012 won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting, the first for an online news portal. She is also on the list of Forbes most powerful women in the world. What she didn't realise was that her outdated notion of success was leading to her downfall, before she took urgent action.
At her official German book launch of "Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder" at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin in early October, Huffington found any reason to bring in her love of ancient Greek philosophy.
The quest for what is a good life has been occupying philosophers and thinkers since time immemorial—how do you define it? How do you live it?
In our world of modern technology, 24-hour days and global connectedness, Huffington argues that what may objectively be a good life has been reduced to what is a "successful life". "Success" in our society has come to be measured by two traditional, and as she argues, now outmoded metrics: money and power. She told the packed house in Berlin that the third leg of this stool needed to be a new "metric" to enable us to thrive: well-being, as a way to enable human wonder, wisdom and giving.
Sounds convincing enough, in theory. Yet when she continued and openly recounted her physical collapse from burnout and exhaustion in a pool of blood a few years after starting the Huff Post, I sensed that a few people in the audience had flashes of "This could have been me". Her collapse led her to re-evaluate her life and reassess her priorities.
Her honesty seems a rare trait for a global media persona, it is, however, what makes her such an endearing character. In her rigorous approach to research for the book, she notes how modern science has essentially confirmed ancient wisdom: the link between sufficient sleep and health. In fact, sleep deprivation has been shown to cause Alzheimer's, cancer and creativity deprivation.
"We are currently in a collective disillusion which preaches that burn out is the only way to succeed. It is so entrenched in our mainstream culture, just like during the Middle Ages when everyone believed that the earth was flat rather than round, and of course that turned out to be wrong", laughed Huffington.
She implemented a personal 12-step programme and joked that it was like Alcoholics Anonymous. She noted that you need to pick the step that resonates with you and hers was lack of sleep. She set in train a simple tool to have an additional 30 minutes sleep per night and found that she was able to incrementally increase this to eight hours per night rather than her previous four.
"I promised myself I would not write another book, yet after I gave a commencement speech at Smith College (to a group of female graduates), I indirectly gave the thesis of what became the book as a sort of personal philosophy. After that I was flooded with emails about how many people thought the same thing", Huffington said.
With a wry sense of humour and a sharp tongue, Huffington even apologised for her strong Greek accent and told us how her first husband enlisted the help of a dialogue coach to correct her pronunciation (she migrated to the US from Greece in her teens). "I was made to feel that my foreignness was embarrassing until I realised it was a powerful differentiator and a cause for celebration of my uniqueness", she said.
Huffington showed how well-prepared she was, sharing some interesting statistics for Germany on lack of sleep and productivity:
- Burnout costs the German economy approximately €10bn per year.
- The consumption of anti-depressants is rising.
- Volkswagen has instituted a closed email system from 7pm to 7am so that staff cannot physically check or respond to emails when they are at home during these hours.
- Heidelberg University runs happiness courses for its students.
You cannot control the circumstances of your life, but you can control your attitude towards them and this is what ultimately leads to freedom, because you accept you are responsible for your own actions", mused Huffington.
This article was written by guest author, Petra Zlatevska.